Your First Responsibility in Any Job

Many smart creatives have lofty ambitions — a desire to create something meaningful, make a difference, improve the world. But it’s easy to get caught up in these aspirations and overlook your most important responsibility.

Each of us has the capacity to directly impact (and improve) a handful of people’s lives on a daily basis through our work. This is our obligation to each other — no matter how high our position or perceived impact.

When you come into work each morning, your first job should be to improve the quality of life for your immediate team. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer, analyst, designer, manager, or intern. Everything starts with the people around you. Take your ego out of it. Only then will you be able you branch out and improve, as a group and individuals.

Building the morale of your team is what precedes creating anything of lasting value. If you don’t get it right at this immediate level, it’s impossible to sustain at higher levels of performance with multiple moving pieces. 

This can be better understood as a five-tier model, similar to a rather famous hierarchy of needs.

Levels:

  1. Improve the lives of those on your immediate team
  2. Elevate the quality of individual and group contributions
  3. Establish and grow the culture
  4. Advance the overall mission and purpose
  5. Contribute something meaningful to the world and improve people’s lives

The people around you come first. Before the customer. Before the experience. Before the achievements.

Improving the lives of those around you doesn’t mean making things easier, and it doesn’t mean people pleasing. What it does mean is engaging, challenging, collaborating, and empathizing. And it all must be authentic —everyone’s different, it takes time to build trust and develop your own cadence and rapport. 

Environments where people care and know how to push each other, produce better outcomes. This is where the seeds of cultured are sown.

While it’s an individual attitude at its core, you can also structure teams in a way that facilitate this type of growth and interaction. Small empowered teams — what we refer to as journey teams — encourage people to check their egos and focus on coming together. It’s the same mentality in startups — lean, resourceful teams who care about each other, their values, and their mission.

Those who are only in it for themselves will struggle to survive in this type of an environment. 

There’s less room to hide behind personal brand — or whatever garbage they disguise it as. While this might work in a more rigid, corporate hierarchy, true motivations become glaringly obvious on self-sufficient teams. Pretending to care about the people around you because you’re supposed to, is not the same as actually being invested. You can’t fake that. At least not for long without breeding resentment and disengagement.

Authenticity, purpose, and challenge are each important if you want to keep smart creatives engaged and contributing their best work. This is one of the most significant obstacles that companies face in today’s business world. That’s why so many people are on the two-year plan, bouncing from one opportunity to the next. It’s difficult to sustain a high level of engagement for years on end.

The best way to combat this is by building a community of people who not only challenge, but care deeply about each other. It’s a true competitive advantage that’s not easily replicated. It’s hard work, that’s why it’s so rare. But few things have a more powerful, direct contribution to your overall wellbeing than this type of work environment. 

If you want to make a difference, start by making a difference in the people’s lives immediately surrounding you, then build from there. This remains true regardless of what aspirations you hold.

Show compassion and interest towards the people you work with. Discover meaning in your work, together. Enjoy your time together, struggle together, and strive to improve each other’s lives.

If you want to achieve what you’ve set out to, you’re going to need people who care about and challenge each other. That’s what it takes to bring an idea to life and contribute something meaningful to the world. When you make this your first responsibility, everyone will come out better for it. 

Top 4 Books for Better Mental Models

In a world of specialization, mental models are the most powerful argument for adopting a more multidisciplinary approach. The concept behind mental models is that broad exposure to a range of subjects enables you to leverage the most useful knowledge from each, so you’re able to make better decisions.

When you position yourself at the intersection of multiple disciplines, you develop the ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots in a way that the vast majority are otherwise incapable of discovering. It’s here where true creativity and the most innovative solutions are found.

Charlie Munger coined the term “latticework” of mental models–which is exactly what you’re aiming for. The models you pick up should be intertwined with one another, as well as with your personal and vicarious experience. The more connections, the faster you’ll be able to navigate the latticework of your mind, and the stronger your cognitive ability.

You can begin building better models by going straight to the source. If you read and study those who have demonstrated mastery over their specific fields–regardless of industry–you can improve your decision-making ability considerably.

Over the past year, I’ve read (and reread) over 40 books in search for the best systems. These have served as the foundation for improving my own mental models. I’ve distilled what I’ve found to be the most important methods and strategies down to just four books. Each documents real models from some of the smartest, most imaginative minds in history. While these are in no way comprehensive, it is my hope that they will provide a starting place for you to build your own latticework, and that you might find them as enlightening and useful as I have.

1) Mastery — by Robert Greene
You would be hard-pressed to find a more profound, relevant book, no matter your position in life. If I had to recommend a single book of Greene’s to get you started, this would be it. He begins by defining mastery as the sensation we experience when we feel that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. The book offers a deep dive into every element of mastery–including insight for those just starting out and searching for their life’s task. True to form, Greene also provides detailed accounts and models from some of the greatest masters in history–Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Paul Graham, and dozens more.

“The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughens our minds, much like physical exercise. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents–will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?” –Robert Greene

2) Tools of Titans — by Tim Ferriss
A collection of interviews with hundreds of the most talented entrepreneurs and thought leaders consolidated into their most useful sound bites. It follows the same format as his popular podcast. Ferriss lays the framework for building better, more productive mental models. Rather than suggesting a checklist of X-Y-Z required to set yourself apart, he emphasizes strategies and tactics which can be applied more broadly. A few of my favorite sections feature Naval Ravikant (entrepreneur/investor), Josh Waitzkin (chess prodigy), and Alain de Botton (philosopher). There are sure to be a handful of ideas that will resonate with you and help improve your own mental models. It’s a book I revisit with regularity–especially when I’m in need of a new perspective.

“Most people think they can wait around for the big moments to turn it on. But if you don’t cultivate ‘turning it on’ as a way of life in the little moments–and there are hundreds of times more little moments than big–then there’s no chance in the big moments.” –Josh Waitzkin

3) Antifragile — by Nassim Taleb
Taleb introduces his concept of antifragility, which explains that certain things–including us–benefit from a degree of randomness, chaos, and disorder. While comfort, convenience, and predictability, breed the opposite–fragility. He presents this as part of what he calls ‘the central triad’ which ranges from fragile to robust to antifragile–the key to personal growth. As he explains antifragility, he discusses the value systems that hold us prisoner, ancestral vs. modern life, and Seneca’s version of Stoicism. It’s a dense read, but worth it for a glimpse into the originality of Taleb’s models.

“With randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” –Nassim Taleb

4) The Daily Stoic — by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
I’ve found Stoicism to be the most effective philosophy for modern life. If you’re unfamiliar with Stoicism, you’re probably operating under the misconception that it’s synonymous with a lack of emotion. In actuality, it’s a school of philosophy focused on cultivating an unwavering sense of focus, appreciation, and rationality. The Daily Stoic is a great introduction to some of the most memorable Stoic philosophers and their models for living a better life, including Epictetus, Seneca the Younger, and Marcus Aurelius. The book offers daily wisdom–366 short sections–focused on the most important Stoic themes. This is not a philosophy textbook filled with abstract concepts. It’s an accessible overview of Stoicism and its emphasis on the art of living.

“Take a good hard look at people’s ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out.” –Marcus Aurelius

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